Nigeria’s Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo says nations are built by people and Nigeria is being built through the daily honest toil of hardworking Nigerian workers.
Prof. Osinbajo stated this on Sunday afternoon in his remarks to commemorate the Workers’ Day celebration which held at Eagle Square, Abuja, themed “Labour, Politics and the quest for Good Governance and Development in Nigeria.”
“You keep the engines of our country running despite the challenges we face. You are the strength and the hope of our nation. Whatever heights of greatness we achieve as a people will be because of your contributions to our national enterprise,” he said.
“In every real sense, the Nigerian worker laid the foundations of our sovereignty and freedom with their blood and tears and nurture it till this day with their sweat and zeal,” the VP added.
Praising workers for their sacrifices and dignity of labour, the Vice President said: “it is impossible to tell the story of our nation’s liberation from colonial rule without dwelling at length on the heroic contributions of the labour movement to that struggle.
“The labour movement is a foundational movement in the making of our nation. You are heirs of a movement that was involved in literally building modern Nigeria.”
While he noted the important role of workers, the Vice President pointed out that nation-building is the responsibility of every Nigerian.
He further stated that “The progressive vision of inclusive growth and shared prosperity requires a revolution in our national productivity and our work ethic.
“On the part of the government, this means ensuring that every citizen has the opportunity to work, achieve productive personhood and participate in the development of their communities.”
“As a people, we must commit to an ethos of high productivity and innovation, and of using technology to transform the way we work and do business,” the VP stated, adding that “we cannot achieve this without a workforce that is attuned to optimizing our possibilities.”
Prof. Osinbajo observed that “the labour movement belongs firmly to the progressive political persuasion, noting that “labour has always made common cause with the progressives.”
He further stated that the ruling All Progressives Congress was “an alliance of progressives” that in 2015 “became the first opposition party to defeat a ruling party against all odds and secure a national victory at the polls.”
“It was a watershed moment for our nation because, until that momentous event, the progressive tendency had been the neglected cornerstone of our nation’s history.
The VP also noted that “progressive politics” is how politics can deliver good governance and development.
He explained: “as a progressive, I believe that good governance and development means compulsory free education for the unlettered, universal healthcare coverage, inclusion for the alienated, social mobility for the poor, justice for the wronged and social security for the vulnerable.
“The progressive vision of Nigeria is of a nation in which the relations between the government and the governed are defined by a social covenant. It is of a society in which no Nigerian is left behind. It is of a canopy of inclusive and broad-based prosperity in which the security and the welfare of each citizen are guaranteed.”
Buttressing further on the impact of progressives’ politics on socio-economic development, the Vice President highlighted the Buhari administration’s Social Investment Programmes, which have impacted tens of millions of beneficiaries nationwide
He also noted the establishment of “the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities and the National Centre for Senior Citizens to cater for the needs of our compatriots that live with disabilities and our elders”, as well as the “the enactment of the Not too Young to Run Act which modifies the age restrictions for seeking public office.”
He said this “opens doors of opportunity for more youth engagement in politics.”
According to the VP, these efforts by the government are further demonstrations of its commitment to inclusion in all its ramifications.
“We have pursued our progressive agenda for inclusion and social protection in a period of global turbulence,” Prof. Osinbajo added, assuring that “we are committed to doing much more.”
“We must continue to take care of our people, especially when they are no longer active. No society has achieved appreciable levels of development without looking out for the older demographic of its population, especially those who have faithfully served the country,” he emphasized.
Highlighting the importance the administration places on workers’ welfare, as well as the gains it has recorded despite global economic challenges – such as the fall in crude oil prices, COVID-19 pandemic, the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the Vice President emphasized that “regardless of all these challenges, this administration has been steadfast in tackling the issues facing Nigerian workers. This is why President Buhari implemented an increase in the national minimum wage in 2019.”
Speaking further on how the Federal Government tackled the global pandemic, the VP noted that proactive steps were taken quickly to cushion the socio-economic effects on Nigerian workers and Nigerians generally, through the implementation of the Economic Sustainability Plan (ESP), whose development and implementation the VP led.
Prof. Osinbajo recalled that the Federal Government placed Micro, Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (MSME) employees on payroll support during the pandemic.
He further noted that as part of the ESP, “we introduced the Food for Jobs Agricultural Programme, providing support for over 4 million farmers. We started the most ambitious social housing programme in our nation’s history, and we started the Solar Naija Programme to connect 5 million homes with solar power.
“We set up the MSME Survival Fund which disbursed over N56.8 billion to over 800, 000 people. The Fund also provided grants, free business registration and payroll support to over 1 million artisans, micro and small business owners.
Aside from the ESP implementation, Prof. Osinbajo disclosed that the Buhari Administration “increased the retirement age of teachers so that they can spend more years in service educating our children.”“Recently, we implemented an upward review of the salaries and wages of the men and women of the Nigeria Police Force as part of our broader commitment to improving the welfare and service conditions of those charged with safeguarding the rest of us,” he stated.
The Vice President also highlighted other aspects the Government is ramping up efforts to support and improve the welfare of Nigerian workers, including the provision of health insurance.
“No Nigerian, especially one who contributes to the development of the nation by way of labour, should be denied primary health care because of affordability.
“Currently, only workers in organized labour benefit from the current health insurance system. Our goal is universal health care, to fund it we must look beyond our meagre Federal and State budgets, the answer is compulsory insurance coverage for all Nigerians.”
He added that Government’s focus is not only on the health of those currently in the workforce but also for senior citizens who spent their prime in service.
“This is why the Federal Ministry of Health has established a Ministerial Committee whose mandate is to come up with a framework for the provision of Health Insurance coverage for our retired senior citizens. I must mention here that after 15 years of stagnation, we have now reviewed the hazard allowance for doctors and other health workers. The circular to that effect has now been released and it is with effect from December 2021.”
Prof. Osinbajo further said the Federal Government will “also expand and deepen implementation of the Employee Compensation Act so that workers all over the country receive compensation for injuries suffered in the line of duty and in the case of death, their dependents are adequately compensated.”
The Vice President also addressed the ongoing strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), as he appealed to the body and the broader labour community to embrace dialogue with Government.
“We are not unmindful of the anxieties of our children and their parents who are plagued by thoughts of an uncertain future as they stay home because their universities have been shut by an industrial action,” he observed.
Calling on the Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress to help facilitate a resolution, Prof. Osinbajo stated: “we both want the same thing – a country that works for all and offers each citizen a fair deal – even if occasionally we differ on how to achieve this goal. But at all times, we have through dialogue found a path forward… I believe that we can find a path forward in good faith. And this is what we must do”
He also noted Government’s efforts in addressing security challenges by “re-engineering our security architecture with a greater focus on technology and modern force multiplier platforms.”
Prof. Osinbajo also stated the administration’s determination to improve the education sector, ramp up its Social Investment Programmes, broadband connectivity for Nigerians by 2025, and “establish a technology economy that will leverage on our broadband connectivity for all.”
This, he noted, will “encourage tech companies to train more tech engineers and increase the quantum and quality of tech talent in Nigeria.”
“We have the talent, the resources, the resourcefulness, the resilience and the faith to do all these and more in a few short years. But we must decisively defeat the anarchists and terrorists, unite and heal our people and let a united and powerful country attain its manifest destiny,” he observed.
The Vice President also recalled iconic national figures such as Pa Michael Imoudu, Mallam Aminu Kano, Nduka Eze, F.O. Coker, E.E. Esua and M.A. Bankole, whom he said played critical roles in Nigeria’s quest for liberation from colonial rule and were leading lights of the labour movement.